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Runners Light Up Awareness for Autism

light-up-for-autism-5k-TN.jpgA popular spot for joggers and walkers in the Greenwood community became a race route for autism awareness on Thursday night (March 23).

The 4th Annual Light Up for Autism 5k sent competitors dashing across the grassy start line of the soccer field at Lander University's May Sports Complex. Clad in bright green t-shirts and race bibs, dozens of runners weaved among the scattered clusters of community members sharing the same pathway.

"The goal is to spread autism awareness by lighting the community up for autism," said Tracy Garrett, organizer of the Light Up for Autism 5k run. "I feel we must be active in the community and give back as much as we are able to." Garrett is an associate professor and program coordinator for Special Education at Lander University.

An alumna of the university, Garrett's passion for working with special needs began as a college student, when she first became involved in Lander's chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children (SCEC). She now advises that student organization. "Our chapter wanted to raise awareness and help support the people serving individuals with autism," she said. "My son has autism and was diagnosed at the age of two - so my family and I live in the autism world."

Recognizing the need for educating the public, and the importance of building connections for caregivers to community resources, the chapter held its first Light Up for Autism 5k in 2014. Their goal was very simple - spread awareness and give back to the community. Proceeds from the event go to the S.C. Autism Society, which provides funds to local classrooms serving students with special needs.

This year, the other student organizations across campus decided to lend a hand with the event, including members of Zeta Tau Alpha (ZTA), Lander Early Childhood Education Association (LAEYC) and the Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA). The evening run was a collage of college students, teachers from local school districts, family members, friends and leaders from the community showing support.

"This is my second time running," said Maggie Garland, of Ninety Six. A senior majoring in special education at Lander, Garland plans to teach at Anderson School District One after graduating in May.